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Centers of Excellence

Marcel Proust's World War I letters: a digital edition

Marcel Proust's World War I letters: a digital edition


2017 Project submitted by University of Illinois at Urbana | Embassy of France and La Mission du Centenaire's support: $ 16 000

Project coordinator: Marcus Keller

Summary of the Project

Marcel Proust is one of best-loved French writers in the US, and his novel In Search of Lost Time is among the most famous literary depictions of World War I. Yet many of his letters from the war period have never been translated into English. Proust and his relations felt the effects of the war closely: their letters offer vivid testimony of their varied experience, from the horrors of the front, to social and cultural life in Paris under the threat of bombardments.

One such correspondent, Walter Berry, was the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in France, and a major advocate of US intervention in the war. Proust credited Berry, a friend to many French and American writers living in Paris, for “having pleaded, with incomparable energy and talent, the cause of France, and having prevailed.”

A digital edition of Proust’s war letters will link users to relevant materials from other archives: for example, Berry’s papers (held at Southern Illinois University) give an inside view of Franco-American diplomatic and literary relations during the war and its aftermath.

This project is the work of a research consortium creating a fully digital, open-access edition of Proust’s letters: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Department of French & Italian, and Rare Book & Manuscript Library); the Université Grenoble Alpes (Litt&Arts research unit); and the Institut des textes et manuscrits modernes in Paris (Équipe Proust).

Our updated edition is not an online version of the older paper edition (1970-1993). Letters rediscovered since 1993 will be integrated. Certain datations will be revised, and notes will be enriched, making full use of electronic possibilities. Features will include diplomatic transcriptions and high-resolution images of original documents (whenever possible), text encoding allowing for highly targeted searches, and a French/English interface.

The open-access publication of Proust’s WWI letters (a selection of c. 300 letters covering the period 1914-1918), coinciding with the centennial of the war, will constitute a first thematic phase toward the full digital edition, giving the project enhanced visibility. Students from Illinois will receive training in the digital humanities and contribute research work. Students across the US and members of the public will be invited to participate through crowd-sourced translations. The edition of war letters will be presented at a public event in Chicago and a research symposium in Paris.